Several years before FromSoftware developed the now heavily acclaimed Soulsborne series and recently brought back Armored Core they used to work on a little dungeon crawler by the name of King’s Field. Exclusive to PlayStation consoles and going on for four entries, the King’s Field series followed the player exploring a treacherous world full of monsters and mysteries. It was a difficult game for the time and the limiting controls of the original PlayStation controller made it hard to play, but King’s Field was a rewarding experience. One for players willing to brave the many dangers lying beneath the surface and reach the end. Sound familiar if you have played any of FromSoftware’s recent games as this philosophy would be carried on. After King’s Field 4 the team moved on as dungeon crawlers slowly became outdated and new hardware allowed them to further stretch the scope of their projects. If you were to go back to King’s Field now or maybe watch one of Iron Pineapple’s videos on it, you’d easily be able to spot a lot of outdated elements. Not just the visuals, but gameplay and design of the world. I’d say stuff like The Elder Scrolls has managed to modernize the structure of dungeon crawlers pretty well by making combat less finicky to mess around with, rewarding different builds, and having sprawling worlds to explore, but there’s something special about more condensed level design and the claustrophobia.
Diving deep into the earth, getting lost, and not knowing if the next turn will kill you. Everything grows darker and you forget how to navigate your way back to safety. Even a small spot of fire is enough to provide you comfort in the cold damp darkness. That feeling is kind of lost when you make a game bigger in scope and make it take place in open ended environments. There’s a few games as of recently though that have managed to recapture this feeling. Fear and Hunger, a set of games I do not have the balls to lay a single finger on, follow you and a party of poor hopeless saps venturing through dangerous terrain in the hope of either making it out alive or reaching a goal of some kind. It’s hard, punishing, depressing, disturbing, dark if you look into the lore, and that is exactly the reason why it has quickly gained a following. That is not what we are talking about today though. We are here to discuss a game heavily inspired by King’s Field and can quite literally be called a spiritual successor. This being Lunacid, a retro aesthetic dungeon crawler that has been in early access for a while and recently entered the 1.0 version. The game was made by solo indie developer Kira who previously worked on two survival horror titles, Lost In Vivo and Spooky’s Jumpscare Mansion. In other words: a game that will make you sh*t your pants and one of many horror games that blew up because of let’s players and follows the motto of “thing that looks to be for children is secretly scary.” Anyways, Lunacid was the next project Kira had in the works and his main goal was to remove the jank and modernize a lot of the aspect of the ye olde King’s Field titles. He looked at FromSoftware’s recent games and decided to carry over many aspects of those games into Lunacid.
Eventually we got Lunacid and when the early access build was first released it impressed a lot of people. I don’t know what the early access version first had, but from what I heard it had a ton of content compared to most early access games on Steam. Kira gained more funding through the success of the early access release and used it to add more content to the game, polishing, and eventually reach the end product. Lunacid had its full release and reception for it was great. It’s one of the more underrated RPG titles of the year and does a lot of interesting things despite how small in scope it is. In fact, I’m really surprised this game only takes up one gigabyte on PC and contains no bugs or visual issues. Having finished Lunacid as of recently I can confirm that most of the praise is deserved. The game has a few problems that are made fun of here and there, and personally I don't think this is a game that everyone will enjoy. However, I liked it overall and my hopes are high for if Kira decides to create a future game like this ever again. Today we’re going to be talking about why I quite liked Lunacid and why it deserves your attention.
The opening begins with a city located alongside a ginormous lake. A full moon was out and the town was peacefully asleep. All was well until the ground started to shake and something would then emerge from the lake. What looked like a great oceanic serpent flew out of the water and it made contact with the moon. Ever since then the world began to change. Monsters that once felt like fantasy became real and began to terrorize the land. Cities had to divide, and kingdoms were then formed. All of which had their own ideologies, doubts with each other, and fears. Traveling the world became more dangerous and people were afraid if they themselves would become the monsters which haunt the world. The lake which the monster emerged from became a hole, from what I assume, and anything unwanted was dumped into the hole. This included monsters, the deformed, and of course criminals whom nobody wanted, and thought were unable to change the sinful habits they had. You are one of these criminals and you lie atop a cart of dead individuals. You are thought to be dead as well but turns out you are still alive and cling onto the cart hoping you won’t fall. The cart owner notices you and chops off your hand. Dumping you into the pit thinking the fall would be enough to kill you. You cheat death once again and awaken to find your severed right hand floating around. You are able to easily control it as if it were still attached to your body, and you begin to travel out of the dark place you fell deep into.
You loot a replica sword off a statue, venture through some caves, and soon run into a sane person deep within this chasm. Her name is Demi, half human and half demon, and she is quite kind since you are one of few individuals to survive the fall. She takes you to Wing’s Rest where you encounter a handful of monsters, but it turns out they are all friendly and wish to help you along your journey. You get some useful gear and begin to explore more of this gigantic hole. It is much bigger than you expected. Containing unique ecosystems, dungeons, and even castles for some reason. There’s a lot hiding beneath the surface, and you may even discover the truth as to why the world is the way it is now. Let’s hope you get far into your adventurer brave wanderer.
In Lunacid you explore a series of areas, fight enemies, obtain useful goodies, and hope the way you are going is the right way because you’ve been drinking around for more than thirty minutes now, don’t want to get killed, and lose all the progress you made since your last save. The world is structured similar to that of Dark Souls, a metroidvania, or just any game that is linear. There’s always a new area to explore, but that is if you stumble upon it. Quite a few areas are quite literally tucked away behind secret passages or require tools you may pick up late into the game. You are rewarded for checking every nook and cranny, and some of those rewards will be stuff to create a unique playstyle. Combat is straightforward in that you attack with whatever weapon you have. There are normal attacks which can be dealt in quick succession and there’s a charge which can be performed by holding down the attack button. Each weapon you obtain will have a different swing, attack damage, attack speed, and much more. Sometimes you want to switch up your arsenal to fit the scenario you are in. For example, maybe swapping to a spear may help with foes who like to drastically punish you up close. A staff to shoot magical projectiles from afar, or an axe to deal heavy damage up close with charged attacks when you find those windows of opportunity. There’s also magic and the way magic works is pretty unique in Lunacid.
During your adventures you discover rings and these rings grant you one of many spells. These spells will use mana which can only be refilled at checkpoint crystals along with health. You do have potions to refill health and mana, but these are one use items compared to something like the Estus Flask in Dark Souls. You can find more in the environment or purchase them using silver picked up from killed baddies, but they are often hard to come by and the price to buy them in shops can increase with each purchase. Lunacid is a game that rewards you for playing slowly, strategically, and patiently. Take your time and tread carefully. Anyways, what you can do with spells is quite cool and some of them offer an immersive-sim element to the game. Light certain objects of fire or illuminate a dark space with it. Use a barrier spell or rock bridge spell to create platforms to reach higher areas. There’s even one spell that allows you to jump high into the air, but you will take fall damage once you hit the ground. Enemies come in a wide variety of flavors, and some of them have elemental weaknesses and immunities so know what you want to use during a fight. Levels are often these sprawling mazes with interconnected passageways, and you occasionally open up shortcuts to cut down backtracking or make your way to a crystal to heal and save your progress. Every time you kill an enemy you gain experience points and gain enough to level up. Every time you level up you gain skill points, and these can be spent at the many crystals in the world to increase your stats. Stuff like maximum health, mana, damage, the height of your jump, speed, and resistance to damage. Consider what you want to invest as by the end of your journey things will get tough. Besides that, there’s nothing else for me to say. The game is simple but does what it does well enough. Hopefully you can uncover the truth and bring peace to the world.
For a game this small, Lunacid makes the most out of everything it has to offer. It is an engaging first-person action RPG and dungeon crawler from beginning to end, but that doesn’t mean it has a few caveats. I really enjoyed my time with the game and the opening hours were magical, but there were a couple of points during my adventure when Lunacid stopped being fun. That’s kind of why during the introduction that this might not be a game for everyone. First things first, the build variety is large despite only having picked up half of the available spells and weapons in the game and creating a build is easy. The stats you can level up give a clear idea of what they will affect, and weapons contain descriptions that give you a clear idea of what type of damage and skills they have on offer. For example, I uncovered a vampire slaying sword while exploring the dark crypts of the Catacombs and it deals holy damage. Good for the undead monsters within the area, but I found it especially useful for when I went into a castle infested with vampires later down the line. I like how spells work in this game and how you can easily swap rings to change the spells you have on the fly. Adapt to the situation you are in rather than have to travel back to a checkpoint to change spells like in Dark Souls. There’re even some immersive-sim elements with how some spells like Rock Bridge and Barrier allow you to reach areas you thought you would normally not be able to reach, and the game rewards you for doing so.
The retro PlayStation one aesthetics are perfectly replicated here and one thing Lunacid does best is atmosphere. To be honest, a lot of the locations in Lunacid are to be expected of this type of game and some of them aren’t too impressive. The only ones that really stood out to me include the castle infested with vampires which has multiple levels, a lava world which secretly hid away an Egyptian temple, and the blood sea which connected to three of the game's areas. However, it was the atmosphere and sound design that made even the crappiest of places work. The game has a calming soundtrack, but it helps set in tone how peaceful and empty the world is. As a matter of fact, this ambience can catch you off guard as a spooky enemy lunges towards you and you are forced to react. For the most part level design is good, and it feels satisfying when you open up a shortcut back to safety. Signaling you made a lot of progress and where you go onwards may be either easier or harder. The lore is pretty interesting, there’s a ton of cool characters to meet, and the game doesn’t overstay its welcome. My adventure wrapped up around ten hours and if the game were to last any longer I would have gotten more annoyed, but this brings me onto what I dislike about the game and why it may not be for every gamer out there including Souls fans.
I love the design of the world and how easy it is to feel lost. To be whisked away to somewhere you are unfamiliar with and offered the sense of adventure. To be rewarded for exploration and have a sense of wonder from what you discover and when you finally find it. The feeling of being lost is great, but actually being lost isn’t. Lunacid is one of those “where the f*ck do I go” type of games and what sucks is that it doesn’t give you a map. It doesn’t give you a way to see what areas connect to where, the levels and rooms of each area, and what you haven’t explored yet. I’m not saying the game needs to hold you by the hand, but allow you to easily keep track of things. Some of these levels contain a lot of verticality and familiar looking hallways, with one area in particular taking me more than two hours to explore because I barely knew where I was going. Sometimes the way forward is pretty simple, but the game does a terrible job directing you towards that way. The vampire castle cannot be entered until you find a symbol deep within the basement, and the only way to enter said basement is to splash some blood onto an altar. Said altar is quite small, easily missed, and this may signal to the player to go somewhere else when all they have to do is whip out a blood spell and spit some red onto it. The game is vague and while I do like myself some good secrets a lot of these you barely know exist. Like hey you go ascend up a tower to get what is basically the Moonlight Greatsword, but getting to this tower requires you unveiling a hidden wall in the lava area which is an area you may miss. One of the few endings in this game requires you to get a sword that only appears if you are playing during the time of a full moon in real life. It was at this moment where I asked myself, “How the f*ck is anybody supposed to know this without looking up a video or guide?” By the end of the game I was following one wanting to know exactly what to do.
The misdirection and not knowing where to go can even affect the balancing of the game. You will rack up a lot of experience points while exploring and this can change the difficulty of areas and encounters. The vampires in the vampire castles felt like they were supposed to be harder, because I was able to eliminate them with ease. However, this is more of a me problem as the freedom to go where you want gives off the sense that if something is too hard then come back later when you are stronger and better equipped. I feel like the last few areas of Lunacid are the weakest. They are ambitious with what they want to do and present, but fail to stick the landing. The final boss is a piece of sh*t. I’m sorry, but try to fight him with any normal weapon and you quickly realize he is an unfair health sponge. His health regenerates when you are not attacking, it takes a flurry of blows just to remove a centimeter of his health, he does loads of damage with each hit, and trying to fight him up close brings punishment as one of his attacks which will trigger often will poison you. Again, come back when you are stronger, but then someone online said to find a hidden and easy to miss ice spell that just annihilates his health. Did just that and the fight became super trivial. His second phase is pretty cool though and the ending that follows is interesting. I didn’t quite get it because I wasn’t paying too much attention to the lore, and it confused me. Lunacid started off strong and for a couple hours I considered it to be one of the best indie games of 2023, but upon finishing I thought it was just pretty good. Which is still great in my book, and it still gets a thorough recommendation. Even if you don’t like dungeon crawlers or this style of game there is fun to be had and if not appreciation for what Kira has created. They even faced a couple of mental health issues during development, and upon learning this I just want to say I wish them well. What you made here is splendid and I hope whatever projects you come up with next turn out as great as this. In the end I am going to give Lunacid an 8.5/10 for being pretty good.
This critique was written by the single man at Review on. Stay tuned for more content and feel free to check more reviews out over at my site!